Will Europe Act Now?

Iran’s latest ballistic missile test has caused alarm in European capitals. The testing over the weekend of medium-range missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads was not something that even the veteran conciliators in London and Paris could ignore, and it led them to request a closed-door Security Council meeting to discuss the matter.

Outside closed doors, the Western allies are full of concern. The U.K. foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he was “deeply concerned by the Iranian test firing. Provocative, threatening and inconsistent with UNSCR 2231. Our support for JCPOA in no way lessens our concern at Iran’s destabilizing missile program and determination that it should cease.”

On Monday the French president’s office also called the tests “provocative and destabilizing,” and urged Iran to stop.

In the Iranian capital, by contrast, there is no concern at all about the Western reaction. On the contrary, true to the steely diplomatic style it has so effectively displayed over recent years, Tehran was openly assertive of its right to do what it pleased, no matter how much it displeased the West.

As the head of the Iranian air force, Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, said: “One of our most important programs is increasing the range of missiles and ammunition. We don’t see any limitations for ourselves in this field,” he added.

Nasirzadeh did not give details on how far Iran would like to increase that range.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued that Iran had violated nothing, that the U.N. Security Council resolution which endorsed the nuclear agreement did not ban Tehran from developing its missiles.

If one accepts Iran’s narrow interpretation of the resolution, he may have a case. The language of the U.N. resolution “calls on” rather than “forbids” Iran from testing its missiles, according to Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council.

The diplomats from Iran and Europe certainly knew what they were doing when they agreed on such language. The purpose of the ambiguity was, it would seem, to enable the West to at least appear to be taking a tough line with Tehran to put a stop to their missile program, while, as all knew perfectly well, it did not bind the Iranians to show any restraint, except of the voluntary kind. As the Islamic Republic is rather short on voluntary restraint when it comes to military matters, they feel no compunctions about the testing, no reason to apologize and no reason even to talk about stopping.

This was, of course, to be expected by anyone who has followed Iranian foreign policy, and the Europeans (and their American allies at the time) have only themselves to blame.

The Trump administration has been prodding its allies for almost two years to join in revising or scrapping the Iran nuclear accord, imposing new sanctions and demanding that Tehran desist from expanding its missile capabilities, as well as its terror activities. It has been scorned all during that time for taking unilateral actions that risk all the hard-won gains of the nuclear accord and the U.N. resolution supposedly reining in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. At the same time, European business concerns have eagerly sought to renew contacts with the Iranian regime and return to business as usual. The Trump administration, by withdrawing from the accord and imposing the sanctions, has made diplomatic and business life very uncomfortable for them indeed.

Despite the European reaction to the Iranian missile test, they have hardly come over to the American way of seeing things. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that “this test violates U.N. Security Council resolution 2231 that bans Iran from undertaking ‘any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology’.”

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative on Iran, went further and criticized the European allies, saying that since leaving the deal, U.S. officials had found “freedom and leverage” to tackle Iran’s regional influence, and he said that other nations should get on board.

“The current international environment has created unacceptably low expectations for the regime in Tehran,” he said. “[If] the demands of … the Iranian regime seem too many, it is because Iran’s malign activities are too numerous.”

“Iran’s recent ballistic missile test was dangerous and concerning, but not surprising,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The international community cannot keep turning a blind eye every time Iran blatantly ignores Security Council resolutions.”

All of this is still too much for the Europeans, who are not going so far as to say the test was an outright violation of the U.N. resolution, but merely inconsistent with it.

Whether Iran has violated the words of U.N. Security Council resolutions or only the spirit of them, it is clear that the Islamic Republic is once again doing everything it thinks it can get away with in its fanatic quest for domination of the Middle East and beyond by any means, including conventional and unconventional weapons.

Even if Britain and France succeed in getting the Security Council to condemn the missile test, what will that accomplish? It will not deter Iran from its missile program for a single moment. The regime will continue to thumb its nose at the West, pointing to the language of the resolution, which they understand to allow them to pursue their aims.

What is needed from the Europeans is not expressions of concern or even — wow! — a U.N. Security Council condemnation. Such things do not faze the regime in Tehran. The seemingly warm, engaging smiles of their diplomats are, and have always been, smiles of contempt for Western weakness in the face of endless provocations.

The time has come for the signers of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to listen to what the United States has been saying and face reality.